How to read a textbook effectively

One of the most common study tips among top students is to take full advantage of lessons by reading the topic before attending class.
But when you look at the huge Physiology book lying on the shelf and you’re not really sure where to begin, one of three things might happen:

  1. You’ll convince yourself to face that challenge after dinner (which probably won’t happen)
  2. You decide to make a quick youtube search and watch a video on the subject instead of getting first-hand information
  3. You start reading a 20-page chapter about a subject that afterward, you’re not able to explain in your own words or even tell the difference between what’s important and what isn’t.

Sounds familiar?
This is because you are approaching your textbook the wrong way, I got frustrated many times by trying to understand a chapter of a textbook while just reading it from start to finish like I was reading a novel, this is the #1 mistake.

Here’s how to actually get the most of your textbook, by reading it more effectively; following these steps, you’ll start diving into the subject with a great view of it and going down to the details, therefore getting a better understanding of it.

1. Do a quick skim through the pages without focusing on anything particular.

This way, you’ll see how is the chapter structured, are there graphics? Images? Tables? Or is it just paragraphs of information? How long are they? Are there subtitles or just blocks of text?

If there’s something that caught your attention don’t fall into the temptation of stopping and reading that page because you’re probably not ready to understand it yet.

By getting an idea of how your book has organized this particular chapter you’ll get ready for reading, and you’ll know what to expect.

2. Read the questions at the end of the chapter

Most of the textbooks have a final section of questions to test if you’ve learned and reached the objectives of that lesson. Often teachers take some of these questions and customize them to apply them on tests or during classes.
By reading these questions you’ll have an idea of what is important to know about the subject and your brain will give you a sign when you’re reading through the chapter and find an answer to some of these questions.
You’ll have something to “look for” and the lecture will be more active and enjoyable for you, like a treasure hunt.

3. Read the titles and subtitles

Like the ingredients of a meal, the big subject is made from little chunks of information, when you go through the components of the big subject you’ll find it easier to understand the structure when you start to actually read about it.
For instance, let’s say you’re reading a chapter about the endocrine system, the first section will explain what are hormones and glands, the second how hormones make things happen in our bodies, and then you’ll have several sections describing each gland of the body.
You now have a global vision of the subject, by just knowing what the book is going to describe you in each section.

4. Read the first paragraph of each section

The first paragraph has a summary of what you’re about to read, a brief description or introduction so you get ready to fully dive into the subject. Often, you’ll find the definition of the title of this section right on the first paragraph, depending on the field you’re studying.

5. Now you’re ready to read it from start to end

You should now have a global idea of the subject and the components of the main topic covered in this chapter, it will be easier to understand when you read through it, and the chances of you having to re-read to understand where is something coming from are much lower.
Try to actively read, if there’s a term you don’t understand write it down and continue reading, this is the moment to formulate questions for the lecture you’ll be attending. If you remember some of the questions you read on step 2 and found an answer you’re doing it great!

6. Understand and USE the tables and graphics of the textbook.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve skipped these gold mines. Tables on textbooks are a great way to have a more visual and condensed shot of information. Once you’ve fully studied the subject, went to classes, taken your notes, made your flashcards, whatever study method you use you can implement reviewing relevant tables from textbooks to remember the important stuff.
Once I learned how to use tables and graphics I am a big fan of these, and they’re part of my reviewing repertoire.

Now you’re ready to wrestle with that thousand pages textbook, go ahead.
Happy learning!

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